Francesco I Sforza (July 23, 1401 – March 8, 1466) was an Italian condottiero, the founder of the Sforza dynasty in Milan, Italy. He was the brother of Alessandro, with whom he often fought.
Francesco Sforza was born in San Miniato, Tuscany, one of the seven illegitimate sons of the condottiero Muzio Sforza and Lucia da Torsano. He spent his childhood in Tricarico (in the modern Basilicata), the marquisate of which he was granted in 1412 by King Ladislas of Naples. In 1418, he married Polissena Ruffo, a Calabrese noblewoman.
From 1419, he fought alongside his father, soon gaining fame for being able to bend metal bars with his bare hands. He later proved himself to be an expert tactician and very skilled field commander. After the death of his father, he fought initially for the Neapolitan army and then for Pope Martin V and the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti. After some successes, he fell in disgrace and was sent to the castle of Mortara as a prisoner de facto. He regained his status after a successful expedition against Lucca.
In 1431, after a period during which he fought again for the Papal States, he led the Milanese army against Venice; the following year the duke's daughter, Bianca Maria, was betrothed to him. Despite these moves, the wary Filippo Maria never ceased to be distrustful of Sforza. The allegiance of mercenary leaders was dependent, of course, on pay; in 1433-1435, Sforza led the Milanese attack on the Papal States, but when he conquered Ancona, in the Marche, he changed sides, obtaining the title of vicar of the city directly from Pope Eugene IV. In 1436-39, he served variously both Florence and Venice.
In 1440, his fiefs in the Kingdom of Naples were occupied by King Alfonso I, and, to recover the situation, Sforza reconciled himself with Filippo Visconti. On October 25, 1441, in Cremona, he could finally marry Bianca Maria. The following year, he allied with René of Anjou, pretender to the throne of Naples, and marched against southern Italy. After some initial drawbacks, he defeated the Neapolitan commander Niccolò Piccinino, who had invaded his possessions in Romagna and Marche, through the help of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (who had married his daughter Polissena) and the Venetians, and could return to Milan.
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